The Causes of the Formation of the Map of Europe – Patriotism – Constitutional rights of a Nation – The Principle of National and Federal Government – Administrative and Executive Powers – Private Bills – Examples of Public and Private Bills – Powers of the Federal Government – Raising of the Scottish Standard and the lesson taught by it.
WE will now proceed to institute a short inquiry into the constitutional principle of National Self-Government, and point out the duty of Scotsmen towards that principle. It is a curious and instructive study to trace the forces that have gone to form the present European family of nations. Arbitrary indeed are many of the circumstances that surround peoples, and the cynical philosopher is apt to smile at the perversity of mankind that places the dwellers on one side of an imaginary line under the control of a separate set of laws from those who inhabit the other side. Geographical position has not always limited the boundaries of nations, neither has language, religion, nor common interest, but a mixture of all these roughly shaken together has produced the present map of Europe. Yet the inhabitants of each country have no difficulty in giving a reason for the patriotic fire that burns in their breast. The deeds of their fathers, the institutions which have moulded their character, the friends of their youth, the mountains and glens through which they have wandered, all appeal powerfully to their imagination, and lift them above the selfish drudgery of life, and inspire them with a love of country.
Patriotism is no idle factor in the world; it ennobles men, fills them with emulation, calls forth the deeper feelings of the heart, inspires art, quickens the faculties of the statesman, and, next to religion itself, is the most powerful agent in the progress of the human race. In a former treatise1 we endeavoured to show that among small peoples the fire of patriotism burned the brightest, and in such countries was found the chosen home of genius, while some of the greatest evils which have afflicted mankind sprang from the absorption of small States by great Empires. If all nations were inspired by a genuine love of virtue, the progress of little peoples might go on uninterruptedly, but experience has taught us that the spirit of envy and covetousness is certain to destroy small peoples unless they are banded together for mutual protection. True, there are some, from the jealousy of States, who contrive to preserve their independence; but that is too precarious a rampart to be altogether satisfactory, so the tendency of modern political thought is towards federalism as affording scope for the individual life of nations, and security from the assaults of powerful neighbours. What, then, are the constitutional rights of a nation? They are the absolute control of every law and institution within the bounds of that country. It involves the right of legislation, administration, and taxation – the right to defend itself against a foreign or domestic enemy, to regulate its trade, to direct its education, religious or secular, and, in short, to do all within their own boundaries which seemeth good for the advancement and happiness of their own people. But while this is the right of every free people, for the sake of protection it has been found expedient to surrender some of their national rights into the hands of a central authority. But the surrender made by the central authority has been carried so far as to destroy the individual life of the nation, and it is to restrain this usurped authority that the present movement in favour of Home Rule is being made. With these few introductory remarks we will now consider the principle that must guide the National and Federal Government in their relations to each other, and it is only just that we should have an eye mainly on our country, Scotland.
It is the proud boast of Scotsmen that their country has never been conquered; overrun and subdued by foreign enemies we have frequently been, but no foreign State has ever been able to consolidate their conquest and attach Scotland as a province to their own Government. As far as regards separate laws, habits, and customs, we stand out this day as clearly and distinctly from the other nations of the Union as during the reign of the Stuarts. In this respect we are different from either Wales or Ireland, both of which are under the dominion of the English law as conquered provinces; whereas the English law is as foreign to our jurisprudence as that of France. It is clear, then, that England and Scotland stand upon a platform of perfect equality, and when we claim for ourselves the right to manage our own affairs, we are receiving no favour from England, but are only reclaiming our own business from a place where it can no longer receive adequate attention. As the two nations entered into a bargain for their mutual advantage as co-equal partners, they can cancel the agreement whenever it ceases to be of advantage to either. Now this is the present state of our affairs – Scottish business, from no ill-feeling on the part of the English, but from the overwhelming pressure of work undertaken by Parliament, cannot receive that attention which its importance demands. It has thus become necessary for the preservation of our position as a nation, that we should resume the control of our exclusive affairs.
This, then, brings us to the point – How can we get the management of our own affairs without injury to the other sections of the country, or without weakening the tie which binds our family of nations together? Simply by resuming no more of our rights than is necessary to the proper dispatch of our own business. Our old Parliament must be restored to us in the form that will best suit the requirements of the present day.2 This Parliament must have full legislative powers within the bounds of the kingdom of Scotland, that is to say, shall pass such new laws or amend old ones as it thinks fit. It shall raise such taxes as will be needed for carrying on the business of the country, pass private Bills, and, in fact, do everything which the present British Parliament attempts to do for Scotland. It shall also choose for itself a fully-equipped Executive Government to administer and put the laws in force, and to secure due respect to the Ministers of State; they shall have the appointment of all offices within the kingdom of Scotland. We will treat of the limitations to be put upon the Scottish parliament hereafter; but for the present we must draw attention to some fallacies that prevail as to the legislative, executive, and administrative functions of government.
We are constantly being told that all the legitimate aspirations of Nationalists are being granted by the extension of local government, and a certain party in the State points triumphantly to the Scottish Local Government Act of 1889 as an example of what good things the British Parliament can give us. Apart entirely from the fact that this Act was passed in defiance of the wishes of the Scottish people as expressed through the almost unanimous voice of their representatives, such Acts only confer administrative functions of a very restricted kind. The charter of a Town Council, Parochial Board, or a County Council has no bearing upon the social and political life of a nation. Their powers are limited to their charter, and even their bye-laws have to be confirmed by the Judges of the land. This position is very little better than any public Company – a railway, for example; so politically helpless are they that the smallest improvement in their midst must get the sanction of the Executive by a Provisional Order or a Private Bill passed through Parliament. There are administrative powers and executive powers needed for the governing of a country, and even the administrative powers have a higher and a lower grade. The higher administrative powers are furnished by the College of Justice; the lower by Town Councils and Parochial Boards. The Executive Government – that is the Cabinet Ministers of the Crown – is above all the others; for example, any citizen can appeal against any arbitrary act of a Town Council to the Secretary of State for Scotland, who will not fail to rebuke them and compel them to act justly and within the limits of their charter; and although the judges of the land cannot have their interpretation of the law set aside, the Executive has power to set aside the penalty when they find the letter of the law press unjustly upon the citizen. It is clear, then, that it is a misconception of the fundamental principal of National life to imagine that any amount of extension of the administrative powers of local bodies could ever do away with the necessity of national self-government.
Before dismissing this part of our subject it would be well to notice the scheme set afloat for amending the granting of Private Bills. In a former tract3 we referred to Private Bills as embracing some of the most important principles of legislation. Nothing could be more injurious to the best interests of the country than for Parliament to lose its hold on private Bills. It is doubtful, indeed, as the private Bills passed during the session do not more directly affect the happiness and comfort of the citizen than the public Acts ostentatiously paraded before the country. Let is consider some of the powers conferred by private Bills, and see how far they bear our assertion. Private Bills confer power to levy taxes; power to purchase undertakings of a commercial character, and make us responsible for the purchase money; powers to take our property, houses or lands, whether we desire to sell or not, powers to restrict our liberty by imposing penalties for petty offences designed by some crotchet-monger. We think this will be enough to show how silly it would be to entrust the granting of such powers to any but a National Legislature. Boards of Commissioners, Judges of the College of Justice, or the Convention of Royal Burghs, are all clearly inadmissible, for it would remove the control of such important concerns from the electors, and as such it would be political retrogression.
In case there should be any doubt in the minds of our readers as to the exact powers of the National Legislature, we will point to one or two examples of national questions, local and private. Thus as to national Bills:- The state of the Presbyterian Church in Scotland, and whether peace and good government can best be promoted by disestablishing the Church, or by removing the causes which have led to division? The law of primogeniture, should it be abolished or modified? The reform of the Poor Law of Scotland. These are examples of public measures which affect the welfare of all Scotland, and are consequently national Bills. Now, as to local Bills conferring administrative powers; the consolidating of the powers of the outlying burghs of Glasgow so as to establish one central Corporation for the city is a notable example of local powers which the National Parliament would be empowered to grant. Then as to private Bills; the building of a new harbour or railway, this would also fall to be granted by the National Parliament. We trust we have made our meaning clear: there are national questions affecting the whole of Scotland, local questions affecting the whole of Scotland, local questions affecting some particular Burgh or County, and subject to the elective powers of the local ratepayers; and there are private Bills under the direction of Boards who will only be responsible to their shareholders. Now, these three distinct classes of Bills would be the province of the National Parliament and the Executive Government of Scotland, and this is self-government.
Let us consider what are the rights and privileges which the National Government would surrender to the central authority to secure the advantages of a federal connection. As the federal Government would be entrusted with the defence of the whole Union, the army and navy would be surrendered into the hands of the central authority by the National Government. This necessarily leads to the Federal Government being entrusted with the province of diplomacy. All business with foreign States, and which might lead to war, would need to be directed from headquarters, otherwise the blunders or engagements of one of the parties to the Union might involve the whole Union in entanglement and war. The service of the Post Office, to secure uniformity of rates and despatch, would naturally fall to the central Government. The attention to our colonies and our Indian Empire would be entrusted to the central Government; so would coinage. Though these matters are administrative, yet there are some pieces of legislation which it would be wise to entrust to the central Government. Patents, trade marks, and copyright are notable examples of Bills which the Federal parliament should consider. But the most important business the Federal Parliament would have to consider is finance. The annual Budget, if it is to be carefully attended to, would consume months of careful attention. How important this is will best be realised when within the memory of middle-aged men this country was governed for fifty-six millions; it is now nearly ninety – a prodigious sum, more than sufficient to keep the deserving poor of the country in comfort.
The idle cry of a dismemberment of the empire vanishes whenever the broad constitutional question is looked at in a judicial spirit. It cannot be denied, however, that the Bill proposed for Ireland by the late Liberal Government lent some colour to the statement of the alarmists. Whether it was the mere haste of preparation, or that its framers were prompted by a narrow party spirit, there can be little doubt that it violated some of the first principles of Constitutional Government.4 To give powers to a minority of an Assembly to set aside the wishes of the majority for three years was an unheard of and pernicious innovation upon established usage. That taxation should follow representation has become an axiom of political life, yet this rule was deliberately violated in this extraordinary measure. Now, since it is clear that the attempt to govern these islands by an incorporating Union has signally failed, for the good and sufficient reason that the four distinct nations decline to fuse together into one homogeneous mass, we must fall back upon the federal principle. This alone commends itself to the wisdom of the nation, and it will be seen from this work that such a system of government was advocated by our patriotic ancestors.
An important historical event happened recently in the neighbourhood of Stirling. Yet among the vast multitude who assembled on the field of Bannockburn on the 22nd of June 1889 to witness the unfurling of the Scottish Standard, how many were there who realised the importance of the event or its lesson to the Scotsmen of the present day. There is always a period in the history of every people when they are prepared to rest upon the past deeds of their ancestors, and forget that each generation of men have duties to perform to their nation, among which the handing down to their children the institutions and freedom of their country is the most sacred. We have been too much inclined to rest and be thankful, and this period of slothful ease has been taken advantage of by the Power who opposed our ancestors at Bannockburn to undermine our institutions, and to obliterate our separate national existence, and blot out our name from among the nations of the earth. There had never been a pause in the policy adopted by England towards Scotland, and they are now affecting by stratagem what they failed to accomplish by force of arms. Let us pause and consider, then, if the achievements of Wallace and Bruce are worthy of our admiration and imitation, or if we must condemn them as the actions of a barbarous age, whose natural ferocity was given over to war and rapine. Were these men contending for a great principle, and were the sacrifices they made a proper price to pay for Scotland’s independence as a nation? Were the victories of Stirling Bridge and Bannockburn a good or bad thing for Scotland? These are not idle questions; they lie at the root of separate national existence, and are as pregnant with thought for us as they were to our fathers in 1314. The verdict of history and the general opinion of mankind have stamped their approval upon the band of patriots who suffered for Scotland and finally triumphed in 1314. Well, then, what did these heroes contend for? Simply for the right of Scotsmen to be masters in their own country, and to be able to direct its destinies. Is the fruit that has sprung from this glorious achievement worthy of the sacrifices made by these noble men? Let the proud position which Scottish genius holds to-day answer the question. One of the smallest peoples in Europe, inhabiting a rugged and barren soil, with a sour and fickle climate, yet they have transformed their country into a garden, and given the world giants in intellect, who have taken the foremost place among civilised men. This pigmy nation can take its place by virtue of the genius of her sons side by side with France, England, Italy, and Germany, and you have to go back to the ancient Greeks before you find a parallel.
Now, let Scotsmen of this generation pause and consider if they are doing their duty to their country, and are they prepared to transmit this priceless boon of public liberty to their children. Are Scotsmen as free now as they were in 1314 to direct the destinies of their country? or is it not the case that we have been living upon the achievements of our ancestors, and enjoying the laws which the wisdom of hundreds of years collected for the guidance of a free people? Are we not, like spendthrifts, consuming the principal of our estate instead of living on the interest? To be more particular, can Scotsmen pass laws for themselves, or must they submit all their measures to the approval of Englishmen? Let figures speak for themselves. Scotland’s voice in determining measures exclusively relating to herself is 72 [now 59], while England’s is 465 [now 533].5 What folly it is, then, to hug ourselves into the belief that we are a free people. What, then, is the meaning of the words Home Rule? It is simply a modern phrase to express the old idea of national independence for which Wallace, Bruce, and our covenanting forefathers fought. It is to undo the fraud of 1707, and arrest the decay of our nation. To this generation of Scotsmen is entrusted this sacred duty. It is a high honour that we should be privileged to take up the broken link of Scotland’s national life. If we do our duty we will be classed with the wise and good Scots of the past; but if we falter and fail to assert the rights of our country in this crisis, then our memory will be covered with eternal infamy.